It’s Thursday, and on facebook a lot of people I know will be posting Thankful Thursday pieces, acknowledging the things in their lives they are glad about. Practicing gratitude is something that happens across a range of traditions, but like everything else, some ways of doing it are more helpful than others.
Taking time regularly to recognise the things we should be grateful for helps keep life in perspective. I have so many things that others do not: A roof over my head, enough to eat, I can afford to heat my home, I am not subject to violence or bullying, I am not in a war zone, a flood zone or anything else threatening. In these things I am fortunate, and acknowledging that I must also acknowledge that others are far less fortunate than me. Much of the difference is just plain luck, and in gratitude for what I have, I can reach out a hand to try and make things a bit better for those who are worse off.
Too much gratitude is not a good thing though. When you become grateful for the pathetic scraps from someone else’s table, gratitude becomes part of a process that strips away your humanity, if you aren’t careful. I used to be so grateful that the guy I used to live with put up with me. He seemed such a saint for tolerating all my shortcomings and inadequacies. I was so grateful, for any small gesture of kindness, any moment of warmth, any time he could be bothered to spare me some attention. When what you are given dwindles steadily, and you are required, or require yourself, to maintain the same level of gratitude, all of reality starts to distort around this, and the consequences are damaging.
Practicing gratitude needs to go alongside a process of really thinking about entitlement. What should we be able to take for granted? Physical safety, perhaps. A safety net in the form of the welfare state. Rights to life, liberty and freedom of conscience. If you start feeling grateful for these things, their place in your life is not as secure as it ought to be. There’s a world of difference between being glad of good friends and being grateful for the people you feel are generously putting up with you, even though it’s clearly very hard for them. With enough mental effort, a story of gratitude can be built around anything: He only hits me because he loves me, is a classic example. Therefore, the degree to which there is violence is the degree to which there is love, and therefore a person learns to become grateful for violence inflicted on them. These are not good lessons to learn.
A person with a sense of self-worth, is better placed to judge where gratitude is called for, and where it is not. A person with an inflated ego can readily fail to notice the things they should appreciate. So much of Druidry is about finding a balance, and this is no exception. The balances around gratitude involve the balance of self-esteem and developing a sense of entitlement that is fair. This is quite a process, but I think the best place to start is by asking not what we, personally should be entitled to, but what we think everyone should be entitled to.
Working time for gratitude into your Druidry is a really productive activity. It changes how we view our own lives and is all about our relationships with the world around us. Gratitude is a response, to people, to luck and opportunity, to beauty. It calls into question what, if anything, we should be able to take for granted. It requires us to ask what entitlements life might have, and in this way invites us to respect the sacred in all things. Ideas of gratitude are tied up with ideas of worth and appreciation, and with a sense of joy and delight as well as the needful stuff. Exploring it helps us become more alert to the good stuff, too. There is much to be grateful for, but it is essential to be grateful for the right things.
March 6th, 2014 at 4:50 pm
I use the term appreciation for the good things and people one is lucky enough to have while you have it. But essentially I mean the same thing.
March 9th, 2014 at 5:26 am
so well said, as always. it’s precisely this type of “but you should be grateful!” mentality that has depressed the minimum wage in the United States for years. instead of being grateful for dead-end, barely-pay-the-rent jobs, people should recognize that in a society where having a decently-paying job is critical for survival, everyone should be entitled to such a job.
March 9th, 2014 at 10:47 am
Gratitude can indeed be a means for keeping people down. A better gratitude-entitlement balance would go a long way….
March 11th, 2014 at 1:43 pm
I think that the meaning of gratitude may have been taken awry in some points of this article – it is not gratitude when we are thankful for someone that is taking advantage of us or hurting us – I think that is something entirely different… what that word is escapes me at the moment, but I definitely do feel that gratitude is not correct in that instance. x
March 12th, 2014 at 9:19 am
No, trust me on this, it is exactly like any other kind of gratitude, and you can cultivate it deliberately as part of a spiritual practice. I’m writing from first hand experience of this, and the gratitude for a beautiful sunrise is no different from the gratitude for the person who has just forcibly corrected your posture and made you yelp in pain and reminded you that they are doing this for your own good. This is why people who are abused often don’t even try to get out – we come to learn how lucky we are to be put up with at all, we feel genuine gratitude for the treatment we get, and for the smallest crumbs of kindness. It is no different from any other form of gratitude, it’s just that the context will gradually destroy all hope and self-esteem.
March 13th, 2014 at 2:32 pm
I’ll have to agree to disagree with you on this hun – I really don’t see it as gratitude. It’s kind of like – to use an LOTR analogy, the way the orcs were created in parody of elves…
Sorry, but brain isn’t working all that well lately, and that’s the best I could do! x
March 13th, 2014 at 4:10 pm
Has it occurred to you that your ‘I don’t see it that way’ may be somewhat different from my actually having experienced it this way, and having talked to other people for whom this is true? Are you comfortable telling me that you are better able to name and explain my emotional experience than I am? Please think about this, Jo, and please think about the implications and the assumptions. I lived this, and this is what I lived, and you have not had the same experiences and think and feel differently as a consequence. It is a good thing that you think and feel differently, but it does not make it ok to tell me that I cannot rightly name my own experience.